It’s 6:30 in the morning in March in Virginia, so the sky is still black and the air still crisp as we drive. We park in the vast, empty lot before the big, dark church, and we walk into the warm, yellow light of the chapel. About 20 or so teenagers are already seated, but everyone is silent and still. A few minutes pass before Father Mark enters with Mrs. Moreau, the petite French woman who wears a black lace veil over her hair and speaks with a thick accent. She holds the golden Book of Gospels high above her head and processes, with the priest, down the center aisle toward the altar. It is 6:30 in the morning in March in Virginia and 15-year-old me is here to worship.
Growing up, my church celebrated these early morning Masses each Wednesday during Lent and Advent. I dreaded it each Tuesday night as I set my alarm. I regretted it each Wednesday morning as I showered while the rest of my family slept. I loved it, however, the second we pulled into the parking lot and saw the light spilling from that one room in the otherwise dark church. Even at age 15, I sensed that something special was happening in that chapel before the sun came up.
The Mass always ran swiftly. Given the hour, my usual anxious thoughts weren’t awake yet, and every word and movement of the liturgy amazed me. Isaiah’s poetry and Paul’s arguments. Mrs. Moreau’s deep bow before the altar. The splash of red wine as the priest filled the golden chalice. The echo of young voices praying to “our Father, who art in heaven.” The feel of my friends’ hands, some soft and some sharp, as we offered peace. Then, finally, the priest’s long arms drawing the sign of the cross over us and his deep voice telling us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
At the time, I assumed our church leaders were teaching us some legalistic lesson about the importance of Mass attendance.
Now, some 15 years later, I know different.
They were telling us:
This is where you come.
This is to whom you come.
In the middle of the night, when you can’t see the way forward, when you’re anxious for the sun to rise, desperate for the Son to rise.
You come to God.
The youth minister, the priest, and even Mrs. Moreau knew that we would all, with time, experience the darkness and the ugliness of the world. They knew that, in those moments, we would desire the light and beauty of the divine. They knew that we would need God, and we would need to know how to reach Him.
So, they invited us and encouraged us to come together in prayer, even on a weekday, even before 7 in the morning. And, now, I extend the same invitation to you.
I invite you to pray, even when you don’t want to, especially when you don’t want to.
Because, if we practice communing with God on our good days, it is a lot easier to commune with Him on our bad days.
We’ll know where to search for Him. We’ll know by which name to call Him. We’ll know how to recognize the sound of His voice, the signs of His presence.
I have not seen Father Mark or Mrs. Moreau in well over a decade, but I recall and appreciate them each Lent. Since high school, I have had several moments full of pre-dawn darkness and, thanks to them, I knew how to reach for God.
It doesn’t often involve driving to church before 7 in the morning. But it does involve whispering the Lord’s name, opening the Word, taking the Eucharist, sitting in sacred silence, and accepting peace from my neighbor.
To be fair, there was never a Wednesday morning in high school when I leapt out of bed, eager to leave the comfort of my own house to rush to church. There was also never a Wednesday morning that I left the chapel feeling less of the Lord’s joy and peace. And, there has never been a day since that I longed for the Lord and could not locate Him.